Some final notes on the upcoming election and a reminder to hold your nose and vote for the Democrat

Meg Whitman’s spending to win election as Governor of California is now up to $162 million, which the Associated Press reports is more than Al Gore spent on his 2000 election campaign for president of the entire country, not just its biggest state. 

When you do the math, it works out to an incredible $4.78 per voter.  Included in this enormous sum is $142 million of Whitman’s own money, much of which she has because tax rates are so low on the wealthy and ultra-wealthy in this country.  Whitman’s great extravagance in attempting to buy an election is exhibit #1 in the argument not to continue the temporary tax cuts Bush II and his Craven Congress gave rich folk in 2003. 

Exhibit #2 and #3, respectively, would be Carly Fiorina who spent untold millions of her personal fortune to become a U.S. Senator from California, and Linda McMahon, who is spending $50 million of her wrestling stash for her Senatorial run in Connecticut. 

Let’s turn now to the Republican’s chief ally in the mainstream media, The New York Times:  Yesterday, the Times outdid itself in its year-long effort to help the Republican Party.  On page A17 of the national edition, it published three feature articles in third-of-the-page strips across the page.  The topics: the gubernatorial elections in Florida, Texas and Maine.  In all cases, the writer wrote the article from the Republican candidate’s point of view.  In all cases, the article had a large photo of the Republican candidate campaigning and a small insert formal head shot of the Democratic candidate.  In other words, you didn’t even need to read the stories to see, and understand, a pro-Republican slant. 

At least the Times also has to cover the news, and so was forced to run a story that detailed the unethical and perhaps illegal machinations of Carl Paladino, Republican candidate for governor of New York, as the financial guardian of his aunt’s property.  As the article reports, the mother of Paladino’s illegitimate child ended up owning the home.  

This election reminds me of the presidential elections of 1968 and 2000.  In 1968, the young, minorities and progressives were very angry at Vice President and Democratic candidate for president, Hubert Humphrey, who refused to come out against the Viet Nam war.  These groups sat on their hands and didn’t vote in large numbers and the result was that Nixon won the election, the war dragged on for another 7 years and Nixon began his campaign of illegal activities.  In 2000, lots of progressives were turned off to Al Gore, perhaps from reading too many articles in which Maureen O’Dowd said Gore was a nerd and Georgie Porgie a cool guy.  Lots of progressives voted for Ralph Nader and Georgie Porgie won.  Georgie, AKA Bush II, proceeded to get the country into two senseless wars, establish a global torture gulag, assault civil and privacy rights in the United States, give tax cuts to the rich, gut environmental and financial regulations and pretty much run the United States into the ground while enriching his cronies.

I’m therefore asking readers not to stay home on election day, but instead go to your place of voting, take a deep breath, hold your nose and vote for the Democratic candidate.

It’s not that I like the Democrats, whom I find to be a craven, compromising bunch who always have to balance their good intentions with the demands of the corporate special interests that fund their campaigns.

But the Democrats are certainly the lesser of two evils in the current election, especially those Dems going up against Tea Party candidates.  The Republicans have narrowed their base to include only the most right-wing of elements, and if given a chance, will continue its 30-year agenda to take money from the middle class and poor and give it to the wealthy, while ending government regulations, pursuing needless wars and ignoring the pressing need nationwide to repair our infrastructure of roads, bridges, mass transit and public schools.

The only voters to whom I am not giving the advice, “Hold your nose and vote for the Democrat” is in the state of Connecticut, in which the choice for U.S. Senator is between Tea Party Linda McMahon and the known liar Richard Blumenthal, who has pretended to be an ex-Viet Nam vet on multiple occasions.  In Connecticut, maybe the best thing to do is write in a candidate.

Call for nominations for OpEdge’s Ketchup Award, named after the condiment Reagan officials called a vegetable serving.

Many people act as if they really believe the first line to St. John’s gospel, “In the beginning was the word.”  They think by using a word or phrase they can create or deform the reality being described or make people look at it from a different perspective. 

For example, when corporations started using the term “downsizing” to describe massive layoffs of employees, the idea was to conceal the human misery that layoffs cause by shifting the focus from the people to the ephemeral entity that is a corporation.  With this newly created compound noun, they sought to replace the message, “2,000 people are losing their jobs” with the more positive message, “The company is getting smaller (and stronger).”

Of course, most people saw through the ruse, so in time another new phrase entered the lexicon of terms to describe massive firings: right-sizing.  People quickly saw through that one, too.

(A quick note: companies sometimes do have to terminate the employment of many people when changed market conditions or foolish moves by management threaten the continued operation of the business.  What I’m talking about here is the language they use, and not the actions they take.)

Examples of these euphemisms are everywhere: “pre-owned” to describe a used vehicle; “police action” to describe a war; “special methods of questioning” and “refined interrogation techniques” to describe torture.    

Sometimes, the replacement term is a piece of jargon that sounds weird until it is repeated endless times, such as the use of the word “product” to describe something intangible like insurance, software or a professional service.

So far, most of the examples I’ve given are simple euphemisms: synonyms that pretty up the situation or concept.  Sometimes, though, the new term is meant to manipulate or completely distort, usually for an ulterior motive.  My favorite example of all time is the Reagan Administration’s attempt to consider as a vegetable that goopy combination of tomato paste and corn syrup we know as ketchup.  Reagan’s folks wanted to define ketchup as a vegetable and not what it is, a condiment, so that they could cut the budget for the school lunch program and still say that the children were getting a balanced, healthy meal, ignoring the low nutritional value of ketchup compared to fresh or canned tomatoes, green beans, carrots, kale or other real vegetables (not to mention that to constitute one serving of vegetable, someone would have to choke down a half-cup of ketchup).

Other times, the new label is an out-and-out lie, as when earlier this year Tea Party elder mis-statesman and former Congressman Dick Armey said that the founders of Jamestown, all capitalists to their core, were socialists.  Armey turned these early American entrepreneurs into socialists rather than admit that a capitalist venture could ever fail and to hammer home his false message that any and every economic failure must stem from socialistic actions.  

As a writer and a student of language and society, I find these new words and phrases to be quite fascinating, especially when they spread lies or manipulate the public.  That’s why I decided to bestow an award each year on the weirdest, funniest and/or most manipulative new or newly reported label, word or phrase used by an organization or individual to distort or recreate reality.

It’s called the Ketchup Award, after the Reagan Administration’s favorite vegetable, and I’m asking my readers to send me nominations by December 31.  I’ve mentioned the awards twice on OpEdge, so consider this blog entry the final call for submissions.

If you would like to nominate a new or newly reported distortion for the first annual Ketchup Awards, just post it in a comment on one of my blog entries, send your nominations to the OpEdge FaceBook page or email  Please include the phrase and the person or organization who said it in your nomination.  No need to include any links, but keep in mind that my staff and I will have to verify the word or phrase, who said it and that it was actually said in 2010, and a link will make it much easier for us to do so.

In a special blog entry on or around January 15, 2011, I will list at least 10 finalists and make three awards:  3rd Place gets One Dollop; 2nd Place Two Dollops; and the grand prize winner will get The Full Squeeze. 

There will be no prize for the submitter of the winning entries, except for the recognition you will receive on OpEdge and the warm feeling you’ll get inside knowing that you have helped to unmask a charlatan.

Thanks in advance for your nominations.

Virginia decides to keep a 4th-grade history book that contains a big lie about the Civil War.

I’m guessing that by this point, a lot of OpEdge readers have seen the news that a new history book that the Virginia Department of Education has approved for use in 4th grade passes off the bold-faced lie that thousands of African-Americans fought for the Confederacy during the American Civil War.  As the Washington Post pointed out, “Scholars are nearly unanimous in calling these accounts of black Confederate soldiers a misrepresentation of history.”  

The absurd notion that slaves who were worked to death, beaten, raped and often saw their families torn apart would fight for their oppressors appears in “Our Virginia: Past and Present,” which was distributed to Virginia’s public elementary schools for the first time last month. The author, Joy Masoff, who is not a trained historian, said she found the information about black Confederate soldiers through Internet research, all of which led to the same source, the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

And what is the reaction of Virginia education officials?  According to the Washington Post, the Virginia Department of Education says it intends to contact school districts across the state to caution them against teaching the passage which proposes this lie.

Let’s set aside the fact that Virginia education officials never should have used a text book not written by a professional historian, and instead look at their reaction to discovering that Virginia was duped by apologists for the “Old South.” All Virginia state education officials are going to do is issue a warning to ignore the false material in the book.  I have two concerns:

  • What about the benighted or racist teacher who decides to teach the paragraph regardless of the advice from the Board of Education, or the teacher who never gets the memo?
  • What about the students who read more than what is assigned, the ones who devour the entire book because they love history? For example, when I heard about this fiasco, the first thing I thought about was my son, now finishing his undergraduate degree in structural engineering, who read every word of his 4th-grade history book within weeks of getting it because he loved history so much.

I know it costs a lot of money to toss out one history book and buy another and I know money is tight for public education everywhere in the country.  But Virginia made a mistake selecting a book written by a non-professional historian and the mistake could lead to impressionable young minds getting a distorted view about an important, if tragic, aspect of our nation’s history.

Let’s put it in terms of a hypothetical question to which I believe we all know the answer:  Is the state of Virginia and/or any of its school districts going to spend any money over the next five years to improve football facilities at any public school or public university?

To my way of thinking, any money earmarked for improving football programs would be better spent ensuring that 4th-graders have professionally written, accurate history books which do not spread lies, and especially lies about the shameful period of history when the United States of America allowed slavery and about the heroic fight by the Army of the United States against immoral slave owners who had enough political control of 13 states to convince them to try to secede from the union.

Another example of a mainstream media outlet lying in the headline and first paragraph of a news report.

Once again, a news report tells a lie in the headline and first paragraph before giving the true story in the article.  First let’s analyze the article in question, after which we’ll take a look at why such an approach is so perniciously manipulative.

Last Friday, Associated Press released an AP-GfK study on the attitude of likely voters towards the new federal healthcare law that Congress passed earlier this year.

The results of the study divided respondents into four groups:

  • Those who think the law should be strengthened – 36%
  • Those who want to leave the new law as is – 15%
  • Those who want modifications to narrow its scope – 10%
  • Those who want the law repealed – 37%

 When we do the math, we find that 61% do not want the law repealed against 37% who do (the other 2% probably did not respond).   In an election, 61% is considered to be a mandate.

But AP’s headline and first paragraph reported the story in a way that distorted these numbers:

Headline: “AP-GfK Poll: Americans split on health care repeal”

First paragraph: “First it was President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul that divided the nation. Now it’s the Republican cry for repeal.”

Huh!?  Since when does a 61-37% landslide majority translate into a divided nation? 

While the survey also shows that 52% still oppose the legislation, the headline and first paragraph do not talk about opposition to the law.  They talk about repeal, and it’s clear that a vast majority of likely voters do not want to repeal the new law.  (Keep in mind, too, that of the 52% who say they oppose the law, many and perhaps a majority oppose it because they want it to be stronger.)

As I’ve discussed before in OpEdge, most people skim the news, only reading the headline and first paragraph of most articles.  That’s why reporters are trained to structured news stories as an “inverted pyramid,” which means that you put the most important information in the first paragraph and bury less important information lower in the story.

In other words, most people who read this article will come away thinking that the country is divided about repeal, when in fact only a minority of voters want to repeal the law.  By pretending the country is divided on one of the Democrats crowning achievements of the past Congressional session, the Associated Press story is lying to the country in a way that helps the Republicans in the upcoming elections.  

And a lot of people will see the story, since AP stories usually get carried in hundreds of newspapers across the country and appear on hundreds of websites.  Moreover, this particular piece of propaganda was the lead story on the Yahoo! homepage for much of the morning of October 25.

And thus another right-wing lie will gain credence among the American people, with the help of the mainstream news media.

We should be asking more of business owners and executives than merely creating wealth for themselves.

I’ve been thinking lately about the idea of business ethics, and specifically about the actions that ethical business owners should and should not take in the course of running their businesses.  I’m not talking about what’s legal, but instead about what’s right, which is something altogether different. For example, we know that it was mostly legal for banks and mortgage brokers to write all those subprime loans, but it turns out that it wasn’t right because it ended up hurting our economy and our society.  In the same way, businesses make all kinds of “business” decisions that are legal, but which may not be helping society.

All the time we read public businesses extolling the fact that their job is to maximize value for their shareholders.  But don’t they have a responsibility to the communities that buy their products and services, build their roads, sewers and infrastructure, and protect their assets and employees? 

Many corporations and businesses talk about their social responsibility, and what they usually mean is contributing to nonprofit organizations, serving on boards and exhorting their employees to do the same.  All good, but what I’m talking about is not what a business does with its excess profits and the executives’ and other employeess time, but how you run the business.

Those who have been following my blog for even a few weeks know that I take a fairly left-leaning stance on most political and social issues, and that I believe that as a society we need to address the related environmental issues of global warming, pollution and depletion of our natural resources.  So it won’t surprise you to see that a concern for social equity and environmental protection drives the following principles, which I am recommending to all businesses, large and small.

So here is the OpEdge “Pledge to America” that I believe owners of private companies and leaders of public companies should take:

  1. Subsidize mass transit for employees, but do not pay for parking for any employee who does not absolutely require an automobile to do the job. 
  2. Recycle and insist that the buildings in which you have operations or offices be “green,” which means making the facilities more energy efficient, recycling building waste and using recycled and recyclable building materials.  
  3. Pay all of the premiums for the most benefits-rich healthcare plan available for your employees.
  4. Make sure that it is clearly understood that the company will not tolerate any discrimination against employees, prospective employees, vendors or customers because of a person’s race, age, sex, sexual orientation, religion, disability, illness, obesity or lifestyle. By the way, besides being the right thing to do, it’s also the law of the land.
  5. Make sure that all employees, regardless of location across the globe, are paid the same rates for the same work and enjoy the same safety protections and that all facilities hew to the highest environmental standards, even if located in a country with relatively low standards.
  6. Do not mandate overtime as a way of life.  Getting rid of overtime not only helps the employee, but it helps the business as well.  People who work too much get tired and start making mistakes.  Everyone needs to get away from the office or factory floor to refresh and pursue their own interests. 
  7. Do not pay the owner or executives a total compensation package more than 20 times what the average full-time employee makes.  That seems like a lot (and by the way, my share of the take is smaller than 20 times the average of my employees), yet the ratio is much higher than that in the United States.  In fact in the United States, the average CEO makes about 350 times what her or his employee makes; it was about 42 times as great as the average worker in 1960.

I am guessing that many of my readers, including most of the business owners in the audience, are going to get angry at me for making these recommendations, especially the last one.  On the surface, it seems to be patently un-American to limit one’s pay, and almost all of these recommendations take money out of the pockets of owners and operators.   After all, isn’t it the owner who invests in the business, takes the risk, knows the most, has created the product or service and has to take responsibility for what the organization does?  Doesn’t the owner therefore deserve all she or he can get?

But how much is the business owner’s position based on nothing more than luck.  I’ve gone over this line of thinking before.  Business owners work hard, but so do most other people.  The business owner, though, has usually had a lot of luck.  Here are some of the luck factors that make some people wealthy and others not so well off:

  • Having a wealthy or prominent family.
  • Being born with a special skill or more intelligence than the average person.  No matter how hard a 5’0’’ male athlete works on his game, he’s not going to be able to keep up with the 7-foot Shaquille O’Neal.  No matter how much a person of average intelligence studies, he or she won’t be able to keep up with someone with a photographic memory.
  • Marrying into a wealthy or prominent family.
  • Growing up in a family that has not been devastated by substance abuse, criminality or mental illness.
  • Being in the right place at the right time.
  • Meeting a mentor or someone connected who will take a special interest.
  • Not having an accident or dying young in a war.

In other words, as the philosopher Daniel Robinson points out in Praise and Blame: Moral Realism and Its Application, very successful people typically deserve much less credit for their success than we give them.  Much of their success is based on factors beyond their control. 

I’m really just asking the question that many ask all the time when hearing that Alex Rodriguez is making $25 million a year to play baseball or that Lady Gaga made tens of millions from a concert tour.  Does he, or she, deserve it?  And my answer is, yes, but only to a certain point.  After that, it’s a matter of the luck of the draw or the social conditions.

Another argument against my recommendations is that it will raise business costs so much that the owner or executive will have to lay off employees or even close down the business.   My answer to that is that in theory there may be some businesses that could be threatened if they implemented all my recommendations, and in those cases, I suggest that you start by limiting your income and then see what else you can do.  Remember: if your average employee is making $50,000 a year, I’m asking you to limit your total compensation to a maximum of $1.0 million a year.  I think that’s quite enough for anyone, even if the spouse isn’t working.

New York Times pities poor Japan, victim of too much investment in jobs and down to third largest economy in the world.

On the front page of this Sunday’s New York Times, Martin Fackler strings together a series of anecdotes of decline and relative depravation to prove the point of his headline, “Japan Goes From Dynamic to Disheartened.”  The time frame, of course, runs from the real estate bubble that dismantled Japan’s economy in the late ’80s and early ’90s to today—20 years of economic stagnation, or so Fackler and most other say. 

The litany of Japan’s trouble sounds familiar, because we’ve heard it before—a family selling a house for less than they owe the bank; a new frugality among the young (as if it were a bad thing!); the downsizing of new houses.

Fackler has some calming words for his readers, though.  Twenty years of stagnation probably won’t happen to the U.S. after the bursting of our real estate bubble.  Why?, you may ask:

“….largely because of the greater responsiveness of the American political system and Americans’ greater tolerance for capitalism’s creative destruction.  Japanese leaders at first denied the severity of their nation’s problems and then spent heavily on job-creating public works projects that only postponed painful but necessary structural changes, economists say.”

In other words, we won’t make Japan’s mistake of investing in new roads, mass transit systems, bridge repairs, school facilities and other public works.  By the way, from Rome under the Antonines, to Western Europe after the Black Plague, China in the Song Dynasty, New England before the Civil War and the United States in the 1930s-1960s, history tells us again and again that job-creating public works help all economies grow.

Fackler offers no proof, and does not even bother to cite the “economists” who say that public works will extend a recession into decades.  Fackler accepts the free market as the only way to solve problems and government intervention as bad as the basic premises of his article.  In fact, the very fact that he offers no other real contrast between Japan and the United States suggests that creating another opportunity to communicate free market ideology was the raison d’être, or prime motive, for writing the piece.

Let’s refute Fackler in three ways:

  1. He never proves that investment in public works extended the recession, he just says it.  It’s likely that without public investment at whatever level Japan really made it, that the recession would have been much worse.  No matter how the right-wing pundits try to twist the figures, the recovery programs of the United States and Western European countries prevented the recession from turning worse.
  2. When he contrasts Japan with the United States, he conveniently forgets about the last 11 years since our dot-come bubble burst in which incomes and investments have stagnated in the United States.
  3. Is it really true that Japan has stagnated?  Everyone has been saying so for 20 years, but that’s the same “everyone” who says that because gross domestic product is up, we’re out of the recession even as unemployment dances around 10 percent.

We do know that China recently passed Japan to become the world’s second largest economy, but Japan is still way ahead of #4 India. 

Let’s look at other key measures of economic well-being, all from the Economist’s Pocket World in Figures 2011. I think we’ll see that Japan is still doing pretty good on the whole:

  • Most economic purchasing power – 3rd in world
  • Standard of living – 29 (U.S.A. is 20!)
  • Human development, which measures overall well-being – 9 (U.S.A. is 13!)
  • Trader of goods – 4
  • Surplus in balance of payments – 3 (U.S.A. is biggest debtor nation!)

Okay, China is kicking Japan’s butt in the competitive part of economics, but China is also kicking our butt and everyone else’s too.

Let’s look at Japan’s real problem: The fact that it rates first in median age in the world, first in percentage of people over the age of 60 and first in the percentage of people over the age of 80.  That’s a lot of people who aren’t in the market for a new home. 

In other words, Japan is the oldest nation and the one which is aging the fastest. As I discussed in yesterday’s blog entry, economists and policy makers haven’t done much work on the question of how to create a thriving economy when the population is aging and either stagnating or shrinking.  Virtually all of economics assumes that the way to economic nirvana is growth, specifically in population and productivity. 

Perhaps Japan’s economic stagnation is not a problem, just the natural result of an aging society.  Perhaps Japan is as rich as it ever was but no richer, but that the distribution of its wealth among its residents has left pockets of distress, much as it has in the United States.      

Where are all the economists studying economic systems in which the population shrinks?

Growth is not always good. Sometimes it’s a malignant cancer that will kill an individual.  Sometimes it leads to eradication of resources, which causes extinction of a species, or as we are seeing now, many species.

Yet every economist whose views I can remember reading in the mass media takes population growth as one of the givens of all economic systems.  Without population growth, all economic systems are bound to fail, say the most doctrinaire.  Funny, they always cite ancient Rome (Edward Gibbon and others), yet always neglect Western Europe in the 14th century after the Black Plague took out a third of the population and the price of labor skyrocketed, leading to the time of the greatest average economic well-being in the entire history of the West (See Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror and Fernand Braudel’s Capitalism and Civilization).

I can understand the right-wing preoccupation with growth.  Yet when liberal economists such as Paul Krugman and Robert Reich talk about the need to stimulate greater spending, they are saying that we have to grow our way out of the recession.  In a warming world of diminishing resources, why aren’t these estimable gentlemen instead giving us a cookbook for adjusting to no growth and, dare I say it, economic shrinkage resulting from a necessary decrease in population?

The latest to suggest we have to breed our way out of economic disaster is Philip Longman in “Think Again: Global Aging” in the latest issue of Foreign Policy.

Longman accurately describes the graying of the planet as Western European nations, the United States, Japan and China all get older.  The article is worth reading for the facts, but his recommendation unfortunately falls back on the old “let’s breed our way to economic security” argument.

His concern is that there won’t be enough young people to pay for all the old people around.  The man shows no imagination!  Since we know the population is both aging and shrinking, why can’t we plan for it by allocating more resources now to pay for future retirement and medical needs?   Can’t we begin to channel more of our young people into careers serving the elderly and fewer into careers serving our very young?  

Isn’t it clear to Longman that if we don’t reduce our population, we threaten the existence of ourselves and most other animal life on the Earth?

Of course, I am confident our numbers will be reduced, in some combination of the following ways:

  • Famine
  • War
  • Epidemic
  • Responsible human action.

I vote for D.  But try as I may, I can’t find a contemporary or recent economist willing to provide a game plan on how to make it happen.  There wasn’t even anything useful on the website of Negative Population Growth.

I am not an economist, so I can’t construct an elaborate and mathematically verifiable theory of the no-growth economy, but I can suggest some specific actions we might take to manage the downward economic size that negative population growth will entail:

  • Job-sharing, which really means cutting the number of hours that are considered full time, which will have the net effect of raising the price of labor; what I’m saying is that people will work 30 hours a week and make what they’re making now working 40.
  • Return to some labor-intensive ways of doing some things such as farming to give more people jobs, which will also pollute the environment less by substituting humans for mechanical power while again raising the value of labor, and in the case of agriculture also lead to healthier food.
  • Create a new set of human and civic needs to be filled by the economy creating more jobs, such as more mass transit, regular infrastructure improvements, more public parks, cleaner streets, more services for the homeless and universal health care.
  • Establish active immigration programs from the poorer countries to the Western nations and Japan, which are losing population, to keep at a steady state or even growing those advanced economies whose people are leading the way in population shrinkage.    
  • Reallocate educational resources towards professions serving the elderly.

What I find interesting about this list of mine is that everything I’m recommending requires either a more equitable distribution of wealth and/or a greater reliance on government services or regulation.   That may explain why right-wing economists want no part of a no-growth world.

I want to close with a plea to my readers to let me know if you know of any economists or books that focus on creating a successful economic system for a shrinking population.

News media avoids report on possible illegal activities of a right-wing group that denies global warming.

In a world in which a small-town preacher threatening to burn the Koran and accusations that a candidate hired an illegal alien get reported  by tens of thousands of media outlets for days on end, how extensive do you think the coverage would be of the shocking news that a major national lobbying group may be spending foreign money to influence U.S. elections? 

It’s illegal for foreign countries, companies or organizations to spend money or in any other way influence our free elections.  Americans on all points of the political spectrum are unanimous in wanting to keep foreigners out of our elections.  So the real possibility that one of the highest-visibility lobbying groups was funneling foreign money to help candidates of one party should be pretty big news, something the news media wants to cover for days, searching for the latest Tony Hayward or Joe the Plumber.

And how many newspapers, magazines, TV and radio programs, blogs and websites covered it?

Would you believe fewer than 300 stories total on the topic, according to Google News!

The organization in question is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been feeding Republican candidates cash and taking out attack ads against Democratic candidates all over the country. Much of the Chamber’s  lucre, it turns out, comes from foreign companies headquartered in India, Bahrain, China, Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.  

The Chamber claims that the money it collects from foreign companies is kept separate from the funds it has been contributing to right-wing candidates.

But is it true? 

A public airing or investigation might prove that the Chamber has not used foreign money to influence our elections and so has broken no law.  In other words, if the Chamber’s explanation proves true, it merely means that it is using the millions of dollars it receives from these foreign corporations, which by the way take jobs from U.S. workers, to spread the false gospel of global warming deniers and to fight all environmental and safety regulations.

A public airing, though, won’t come without public pressure, and public pressure won’t develop unless the news media tells us the news.  And yet our news media for the most part has sat on this story because it is too busy doing everything possible to help Republicans win this year’s elections.

Maybe I was wrong to wonder why the white working class acts against its own best interest. Maybe it’s just the American way.

Last week I wrote about an Associated Pres-GfK study that shows that the only racial-social group in which the majority prefers Republicans is the white working class.  I pointed out that in supporting Republicans, working class whites act against their own best interests, and wondered why.  I promised to return to the issue when I had some answer to the question.

When I am trying to answer a question, the first thing I do is look at it from many different angles.  The first angle I selected in this case turned out to make a whole lot of sense: Is the white working class so different from other groups in acting against its own best interest?

When I started to think about the question from this perspective I realized that in fact it may be the current American way to act against one’s own best interests.

Some examples:

  • Don’t a significant number of college students, especially freshmen, ignore their studies in favor of socializing, hanging out, video games and partying?  How can that ever be in anyone’s best interest?
  • Doesn’t the news media and popular culture reinforce anti-intellectualism and a dislike for learning? How can brainwashing your customers to act in ways that will leave them less capable to earn the money needed to spend on your products be in your best interest?
  • Aren’t rich people the primary donors to groups fighting environmental regulations and other actions to ward off global warming? These people have theirs and have the most to lose to environmental and natural disasters—you’d think they’d want to protect their world from the depredations of continuing to befoul our earthly nest.
  • Don’t a lot of small businesses belong to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which supports positions that favor big business at the expense of the little guy, e.g., is against development of alternative energy sources, which would create enormous opportunities for smaller technology, engineering, parts and related companies.
  • How could it ever be in anyone’s best interest to take out a second mortgage to finance a vacation?
  • Didn’t the Congressional Democrats act against their own best interest by not forcing the issue on a vote for extending tax cuts for everyone but the wealthy before breaking for the election?  They would have put the Republicans in a no-win situation by creating a win-win for their own party.
  • With the history of our Viet Nam debacle and the Soviet Union’s Afghanistan disasters close at hand, how could Congress authorize expensive, unwinnable and goalless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?  How could these brutal money pits ever been in the best interest of the people they are supposed to be representing?

In short, it seems that it has become the American way to act against one’s own best interest.

Yet if we take a closer look at all these examples, we’ll see that in all cases, people are acting to their short-term benefit even if it hurts them in the long run.  Whether it’s the Democrats trying to survive the 2010 mid-term elections or college students drinking margueritas and smoking pot instead of attending classes, most of these decisions involve filling a short-term “want.”  In the case of working class whites, I think it’s a combination of the lure of lower taxes and the fear of the unknown in the form of minorities, immigrants and gays.

And why do we think short-term all the time?  It’s because the news media and popular culture have infantilized the American consumer to want to fill every want immediately by buying something.  In a way, acting against your own long-term best interest is what drives the consumer-based economy, which partially explains why we’re in our current mess.

“I must have it now” thinking fosters the “I can’t think about it now” syndrome, the “I want it all” syndrome and the “Let’s worry about it tomorrow” syndrome.  These ways of thinking all make people act against their own best interest by foreshortening and distorting the parameters of the definition of “best interest.”

USA Today says we have more people left of center than right of center. Try telling that to the rest of mainstream media.

The “cover story” in yesterday’s USA Today, which I read only when offered no other choice by a hotel in which I’m staying, was its poll that found that slightly more people are left of center than right of center. 

The middle of the front page of the paper is dominated by a pie chart with five wedges, each of which represents one of five types of voters.  Each wedge has a photo of an attractive person who represents the voters in the wedge.  The wedges, that is, types of voters, include:

  • Religious right – 17%
  • Tea Party tendencies – 22%
  • In the middle – 17%
  • Obama liberals – 24%
  • Bigger (government) is better – 20%

Susan Page, the USA Today reporter who wrote the story, neglected to do the math, so I’ll do it for her: When you add together the right of center wedges you get 39%.  When you add together the left of center wedges you get 44%. 

In other words, about 5% more Americans consider themselves to be left of center than right of center.

I don’t know this poll, but for most surveys, the average margin of difference is quite small, 3-5%.  At the very worst, equal numbers of Americans are left and right of center, and it’s possible that the real difference is 8% or even 10%!

Page spent most of the article talking about the answer to another poll question showing that 6 in 10 Americans say the government has too much power.  She ignored any comment on the meaning of the slight leftward sway of the American people, but then again the mainstream media has spent the last year building up the right, which of course has influenced voters.

Some examples, the first few of which I have referenced in past blogs:

  • The national mainstream media provided far more extensive coverage of the Republican primary races than they did to the Democratic primaries.
  • The media nationally and locally have covered the various right-wing marches more extensively than they did the left-leaning marches, and facilitated the dissemination of outlandish totals for the rightist marches.
  • The New York Times has done many more human-interest feature articles on Republican candidates across the country than it has on the Democratic candidates, often dancing around the embarrassing missteps that it has covered in the news section, such as Meg Whitman knowingly hiring an illegal alien, something she wants to punish others for doing; or Christine O’Donnell’s silly statements on masturbation and witchcraft.  In the New York State governor’s race, for example, The Times has written three positive lifestyle features about Paladino and two in which the personal opinions of Paladino and Cuomo are contrasted.  It seems as if The Times is trying to deliver the Italian vote to Paladino, who, remember has made a number of anti-Gay slurs, likes to send racist cartoons and hard core pornography to friends and threatened a reporter.  It did one feature on Paladino’s favorite Italian restaurants and another contrasting Paladino’s and Andrew Cuomo’s approaches to their ethnic heritage.  The second article intimated that both Andrew and his father distance themselves from their Italian heritage, which is not true at all—they just define being Italian as something different from and more refined than the Soprano-Godfather image.

But let’s return to what I think the major implication of the USA Today poll is: the survey is not of likely voters, but of Americans.  Many of the components of the left of center—minorities and those under 30—vote in much smaller numbers than those on the right.  And fueled by the enormous impact of untraceable or hard-to-trace corporate money, money that was not available to them until the Supreme Court overruled the campaign finance law last year, the right is energized in this year’s non-Presidential election.

Here’s the lesson to anyone who wants our government to continue Social Security, have an equitable tax system in which the rich pay their share like before Reagan, increase investment in roads, bridges and mass transit, figure out a way to transition to sustainable fuels, clean the environment, spend less on military, support strong public schools, create jobs and foster an atmosphere in which everyone is free to pursue their own lifestyle—to all these people who are comprised in the left plurality described by USA Today, the lesson is to vote for the Democratic candidate, even if he or she is talking a Conservative game, even if he or she has pissed you off.